A regional force put in place to counter the Boko Haram jihadist group in Nigeria will start operations in November, West African leaders decided after a summit in Niger Wednesday.
The leaders agreed to speed up the creation of a headquarters for the force and have military battalions deployed “to our respective borders” by November 1, the heads of state said in a joint statement.
The new headquarters for the force is now due to be completed by November 20, the leaders added. The announcement followed a day of talks between the leaders of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Benin, and the foreign minister of Cameroon.
“After gaining independence, the survival of our countries has never been so threatened by the menace of terrorism, by the forces of division and by organised crime,” said Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou who hosted the summit.
In July, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon had each pledged 700 soldiers to create a multi-national force to fight the Nigeria-based group, which has killed more than 10,000 people since 2009.
TWO DOZEN TOWNS
The militants are thought to be in control of more than two dozen towns and villages in northeastern Nigeria.
Nigeria’s military has struggled to meet a vow to retake all lost ground as part of an offensive launched in May 2013.
In May, African leaders agreed at a Paris summit called by French President Francois Hollande to cooperate against the group through a slew of measures including joint border patrols and intelligence sharing.
Boko Haram’s violent five-year campaign for an Islamic state has killed thousands and threatens the stability of countries in west and central African regions.
In the past two months, it has progressed from bombings, raids and kidnappings to trying to seize territory in remote areas near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon, possibly inspired by similar moves by Sunni Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria.
The militants have also carried out incursions into Niger and Chad, and authorities fear the attacks will continue to spread if left unchecked.
The Niamey meeting is a follow-up to the May summit in Paris where the leaders promised to improve cooperation in the fight against Boko Haram after the group kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls and threatened to destabilise the wider region.
Boko Haram has been active in Nigeria since 2003 and is loosely modelled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.
The sect’s name means “Western education is sinful”, and the group has killed thousands of people in a violent bid to install Sharia law in the country.
Boko Haram is concentrated mainly in the northern Nigerian states of Yobe, Kano, Bauchi, Borno and Kaduna and consider all people, whether Christian or Muslim, who do not follow their strict ideology as infidels.
– AFP and Agencies
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